A fourth generation East Texas cattleman took home top prize in Texas Farm Bureau’s 2009 Outstanding Young Farmer and Rancher Contest.

Ernest Bailes IV, 27, and wife, Courtney, of Shepherd were selected over two other finalists Sunday at the 76th annual state convention of the state’s largest farm organization in Fort Worth. Runners-up were Paul and Monica Minzenmayer, who farm and ranch near Rowena, and Michael and Leigh Welch, who farm and ranch near Troy.

The annual competition recognizes the accomplishments of some of Texas’ top young agricultural leaders and rewards them for all the hard work and determination needed to succeed in this ever-changing industry.

Bailes grew up in an East Texas dairy family in San Jacinto County, spending most of his childhood and college years helping with the family’s two-a-day milking routine. After college, Bailes returned home to ultimately shutter the aging dairy facilities and change direction of the family enterprise to involve cattle genetics and reproductive technologies.

Today, Bailes owns and operates Repro Select, one of the top names in embryo transfers and genetic technologies. Many of his largest clients are involved with top names in rodeo stock, though he has expanded his services to include wildlife genetics.

In addition, Bailes runs a 200-head herd of commercial beef and registered Angus stock, as well as a sizable timber operation on the outskirts of the Sam Houston National Forest. He and his wife, Courtney, an elementary school teacher, have two sons: Ernest V, who they affectionately call “Cinco,” and Rigby.

“You have to love what you do and this ranch was something I always wanted to come back and do,” Bailes said. “It has afforded me more opportunities to be here at home with my family. This is a lifestyle where the whole family can be actively involved, and there’s not many occupations that afford that luxury.”

The couple will represent the Lone Star State at the national level, when they compete against producers from across the United States at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, planned Jan. 10-13 in Seattle, Wash.

As winner of the statewide contest, Bailes takes home the following: title to a 2010 Dodge Ram 3/4-ton 4x4 Mega Cab pickup with a Cummins diesel engine, courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Company; 150 hours use of a Case IH tractor, courtesy of Case IH; a plaque and belt buckle; and a $500 cash award, courtesy of Dodge Trucks.

The runners-up each won a new pair of Justin Boots, compliments of Justin Brands Inc.; and a plaque and belt buckle.